AFSA HQ Newsletter – February 23rd

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS

Congress in Recess

Congress is in recess this week and most lawmakers are working out of their local district and State offices.  Both chambers scheduled pro forma sessions (brief sessions where no business is conducted) for Tuesday and Friday this week, and plan to resume normal legislative activity at 2:00 pm on Monday, February 27.

“Doc Fix” Legislation Clears Congress

Last Friday, lawmakers approved legislation blocking a 27.4 percent cut in payments made to doctors who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients through the remainder of this year.  The provision is part of a larger deal aimed at continuing a payroll tax break and extending unemployment insurance.  The bill, H.R. 3530, The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, now awaits the President’s signature.  According to a summary document from theHouse Waysand Means Committee, a number of healthcare-related cuts were used to help offset the delay in reimbursement cuts.  They include:

  • $11.6 billion in funding from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including $5 billion from the prevention fund
  • $9.6 billion from Medicare bad debt and clinical laboratory payments
  • $4.1 billion from theMedicaidDisproportionateShareHospitalpayments
  • $2.5 billion in enhanced Medicaid funds earmarked forLouisiana

A permanent fix to Medicare’s sustainable-growth-rate (SGR) formula used to calculate reimbursement payments to doctors continues to elude Congress, primarily because of the costs involved.  Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that freezing Medicare rates for 10 years would cost $316 billion and the 10-month delay provided by H.R. 3630 is expected to add about another $25 billion to that tab.  Though a permanent fix is ideal, the new temporary moratorium on cuts is welcome.  It also means Congress must revisit the issue prior to January 1, 2013, at which time an even greater cut in payments is expected.

Stolen Valor Case

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in a case that will decide if a 2006 law, making it a crime to lie about receiving high military honors, is constitutional.  They will be looking at the “Stolen Valor Act,” which makes it a crime to falsely represent, both verbally and in writing, to have been awarded a military decoration.  Offenders face up to a year in prison for falsely claiming receipt of some of the military’s most significant honors, including the Medal of Honor.

The case under review involves Mr. Xavier Alvarez, a local government official fromCaliforniawho told attendees at a 2007 public meeting he was a retired Marine, and that he received the Medal of Honor.  In truth, he never served in the military and the federal government later convicted Alvarez under the Stolen Valor Act.  He appealed the conviction.  In 2010, a federal appeals court inSan Franciscostruck down the Act, saying it was an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.  A ruling by the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals early last year affirmed that decision.  However, last month an appeals court inDenverlooking at a different case upheld the Act saying the First Amendment does not always protect false statements.   Now the matter is up to the Supreme Court to decide and their decision is expected to be rendered by summer.

So for the time being the question remains, are false claims of earning high military honors harmless expressions that should be protected under the First Amendment?  Or are they a crime since they devalue the presentation of a legitimate award?   We’d like to know your thoughts and invite you to share them with us via the link at the end of this issue of On Call.

We conclude this segment with a quote from General George Washington who, in a 1782 general order establishing  he nation’s first military decoration, now known as the Purple Heart, said, “The name and regiment of the person with the action so certified are to be entered in the ‘Book of Merit,’ which will be kept at the orderly office.  Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them, they shall be severely punished.”

AFSA CapWiz

Several members asked this Association to procure and utilize the congressional communication program known as “CapWiz.”   We heard you and are pleased to report that last Friday, AFSA headquarters launched this service which provides members the means to quickly identify their congressional representatives; research their representatives voting records; learn about legislative issues, receive alerts on issues requiring immediate action; directly email their legislators; register to vote and even send a letter to their local newspaper – all in one location.

You will find the link to Capwiz on the AFSA home page in the bottom left-hand corner. You can also access it here.

In addition to a long list of bills we are supporting, you will find sample letters urging members of Congress to reject the Administration’s latest plan to raise TRICARE fees and repeal the SBP/DIC offset.  Letters addressing key issues like concurrent receipt, the Guard and Reserve retirement age and Former Spouse Protection Act will soon be added.  CapWiz can also be used to compose messages in your own words on an issue of your choosing.  To do this, enter your zip code in the “Find Your Officials” box on the main Capwiz page, then follow the instructions listed under “Write Your Elected Officials.”

Users of AFSA CapWiz are required to fill in their information and click on the icon “Sign me up for the Action E-List” if they want to receive future alerts via CapWiz on breaking issues.  And a word of caution to currently serving military members and federal employees; you should use your home computer and email address when using CapWiz (for obvious reasons).

AIR FORCE NEWS

Promotion Testing Materials Now Available Online

The Air Force now offers Career Development Course volumes online for use as promotion study material.   The volumes offered online are the same ones identified in the Enlisted Promotions References and Requirements Catalog as study references for Weighted Airman Promotion System testing.  The library is available to .mil users only at this site.   Once downloaded to their military desktop, Airmen can e-mail the documents or burn them to a CD in order to transfer them to a personal electronic device.   The complete Enlisted Promotions References and Requirements Catalog and the Professional Development Guide are also available online.

VETERANS NEWS

VA Services for Veterans in Crisis

The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its efforts to prevent suicide through several new initiatives that increase the availability of services for Veterans, service members and their families.   The initiatives include a new, free, confidential text-messaging service in the existing Veterans Crisis Line, and the introduction of toll-free access from Europeto provide crisis help to Veterans, service members and their families living abroad.   Now, in addition to the Veterans Crisis Line and online chat, those in crisis may text 83-8255 free of charge to receive confidential, personal and immediate support.

Veterans and members of the military community inEuropemay now receive free, confidential support from the European Military Crisis Line, a new initiative recently launched by VA.   Callers in Europe may dial 0800-1273-8255 or DSN 118 to receive confidential support from responders at the Veterans Crisis Line in theUS.

For more information about VA’s suicide prevention program, visit VA’s suicide prevention page.

VA Home Loans

Home loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to have the lowest serious delinquency and foreclosure rates in the mortgage industry.   Veterans have also taken advantage of their home loan benefit in record numbers, as VA loan originations reached their highest total in eight years.   “The continued strong performance and high volume of VA loans are a testament to the importance of VA’s home loan program and a tribute to the skilled VA professionals who help homeowners in financial trouble keep their homes,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki.   Last year, VA helped 72,391 Veterans and service members who were in default on their mortgage loan retain their homes or avoid foreclosure, an increase from 66,030 from the prior year.   At the same time, foreclosures on VA guaranteed loans dropped by 28 percent.   According to the Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey, VA’s foreclosure rate for the last 14 quarters and serious delinquency rate for the last 11 quarters have been the lowest of all measured loan types, even prime loans.   Since 1944, when home loan guaranties were first offered under the original GI Bill, VA has guaranteed more than 19.4 million home loans worth over $1.1 trillion.   More information is available here.

VA, State Association Sign Partnership Pact

On February 13, the Department of Veterans Affairs signed a formal agreement with the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) to enhance their relationship.  The agreement pledges the two groups to maintain effective communications, an exchange of ideas and information, identification of emerging needs, and continuous reevaluation of existing programs.  “State agencies are invaluable partners in providing services to Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.   “Our historic collaboration with NASDVA has ensured that countless Veterans receive the benefits they have earned.”

NASDVA represents the state departments of Veterans Affairs in dealings with VA and with Veterans residing in their respective states.   The states fund about $5 billion in benefits and services for Veterans.  The involvement of state governments in Veterans affairs goes back to the American Revolution, with the federal government becoming involved after the Civil War.   In 1946, NASDVA was created to coordinate programs between VA and the states, territories and theDistrict of Columbia.

HEALTHCARE

The Doctor is In

In this week’s edition of “The Doctor is In,”, Deputy Director of the TRICARE Management Activity discusses Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that usually occurs during a particular time of year and treatment options available to TRICARE beneficiaries.

TRICARE and Medicare

TRICARE beneficiaries, who have Medicare Part A, must have Medicare Part B to remain TRICARE-eligible. The only exceptions are if:

  • Your sponsor is on active duty
  • You’re enrolled in the US Family Health Plan
  • You’re enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select

If you fall into one of these categories, you are not required to have Medicare Part B to remain eligible for TRICARE.  However, we strongly encourage you to get Medicare Part B as soon as you become eligible for Medicare Part A to avoid any future loss of TRICARE coverage.  You can learn more about how TRICARE and Medicare work together by clicking here.

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS

Insurance: Property & Casualty

Protect what’s important to you with affordable insurance from USAA.   USAA offers top-rated coverage at low rates.   Combine that with award-winning service — in fact, USAA was ranked one of Business Week’s top two “Customer Service Champs” the last four years in a row.   To make it easy for you, you can do it all online — quote, buy, print ID cards, and much more.   Call USAA at (800) 531-8722 or go online here.

Air Force Times: AFSA Subscription Discount

Don’t miss this special subscription offer; order the Air Force Times at $39.95 for the year.   That’s a savings of 76 percent off the cover price.  On top of that, the Air Force Times will send $5 to AFSA on your behalf — and send to you – TWO FREE GIFTS!   Order online here or call (800) 368-5718.   [Please advise the AF Times that you are an AFSA member.]

WORTH REPEATING

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers”

Martin Luther King, Jr

We want to hear your thoughts and opinions.  Complete the sentence below!  What’s your top 10 list for AFSA?  Go ahead.  Don’t be bashful.   Click HERE to send.

“I THINK AFSA SHOULD __________.”

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